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Discontent flaring in rural Egypt

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But this system had severe drawbacks of its own, and in the past decade Mubarak's government, led by a team of free-market-oriented officials clustered around his son Gamal, has sought to concentrate land holdings into what they say will be more productive larger farms.

But such moves have sparked instability and violence in the countryside, given a stagnant economy and the limited job opportunities for dispossessed tenant farmers.

As Nasser's halfhearted land reforms - which took land into trust but left nominal ownership in the hands of the original holders - have been rolled back, rural education and communications have improved, giving once-illiterate peasant farmers a keener understanding of their theoretical rights and how they fit into Egyptian society.

Government officials and economists argue that liberalizing Egypt's land market will revive its banking system, making loans more available and creating jobs that could ease the shock of change.

But Egypt's gross domestic product has grown at a rate of 3 percent or less in recent years - half the rate annually that economists estimate it needs to reverse rising unemployment.

Mubarak, in a rare television interview earlier this week, said he was frustrated that average Egyptians don't see the long-term merits of his approach and appealed for patience.

The dispute over land in Sarando has been simmering since 1997, when the laws changed to allow former land owners like Nawar to petition the government to regain full control of their land. Nawar, who lives in Alexandria, says large landholdings have been in the family for "centuries," a claim underscored by the family's sprawling Moorish-style mansion in a palm grove a few miles from the tin-roofed huts of Sarando.

A tough and vigorous man who retired as the director of a government-owned textile trading company a few years ago, Nawar says he became more involved in trying to get his family's old holdings back after the law changed.

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